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Museums And Galleries: Funding

Volume 447: debated on Friday 10 February 1984

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will provide some grant-in-aid, possibly through the Museums and Galleries Commission, to help the Ashmolean Museum Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, the Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, all of which are in financial difficulties, in view of the national importance of these collections.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office, and Minister for the Arts
(The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, I am aware of the problems facing these particular museums and galleries, like others, at a time of necessary financial constraint. In general, university museums and galleries are integral parts of their parent universities and must look to them for support. I will, however, be considering the position of those institutions directly affected by the abolition of the GMC and metropolitan county councils, in the light of the consultations just completed.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that, in consequence of the GMC grant being removed, the Whitworth Art Gallery will have to close down its conservation department; that at the Fitzwilliam, the whole museum cannot be opened at the same time during the week; that at Dulwich an important Rembrandt painting was stolen last year and the governors have said that they can no longer be responsible for the collections and that many paintings have had to be removed from the public? Will he please treat this matter with some urgency and importance?

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, I am aware of the severity of these problems. In the case of the Whitworth Art Gallery, the gallery receives, I think, 21 per cent. of its funding from the metropolitan county council and therefore that funding will be part of our consultative process in terms of local government reorganisation. With respect to the Fitzwilliam, I have to stand by my original Answer and say that that is, of course, a matter for the university, although the noble Lord will be well aware that the university is helped by the Government through the University Grants Committee. In respect of Dulwich, I have visited it discussed some of their problems with them, and I am glad to say that they are developing most impressive self-help initiatives which I will try to help in any way that I can.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that at Dulwich they require only about £40,000 a year for warding and security services—which is about the equivalent of the extra amount that he awarded to the Soane Museum recently?

My Lords, my recollection is that the Soane Museum award was in respect of pensions of employees there where an anomaly needed to be corrected; but I will take on board what the noble Lord says about Dulwich.

My Lords, with regard to the Ashmolean in Oxford, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that, even though he says that the university should be responsible, it seems to me and to those of us who live in Oxford that the Ashmolean is visited by half Europe who come to Oxford during the summer and therefore it is a tourist attraction of great interest? Would it not be possible to give it help other than that which comes from the university?

My Lords, I am sure that the benefits of the Ashmolean to the university and to the town of Oxford will be registered by the university that funds the museum.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Minister whether, when he considers this, he will give the same consideration to the Whitworth Art Gallery?—because it is for the benefit not just of the people who live in Greater Manchester but of a lot of people throughout Lancashire who visit that gallery.

My Lords, I have already mentioned the Whitworth, but it seems to me to be a central truth that it is enormously in the interests of modern cities and metropolitan centres that they should attract people in to use their arts and leisure services. I am sure that Manchester will be aware of the attractions of the Whitworth to the rest of Lancashire.

My Lords, does the noble Earl the Minister really consider that it is a reply in relation, for example, to Cambridge, to say that they look to the University Grants Committee, having regard to the severe restraints and financial restrictions placed upon that body, however willing it may be disposed to help?

My Lords, the University Grants Committee is, of course, subject to financial constraints; but so, my Lords, am I.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of how very frustrating it is for visitors to Cambridge (as I know is the case), knowing that the museum is open from 10 o'clock to 5 o'clock on Tuesdays and Saturdays and half day on Sundays, to arrive there in the morning wanting to see the pictures and finding that the picture galleries are not open until 2 o'clock? One disabled visitor I knew was left at the museum hoping to see the pictures—she is an artist—and had to spend two hours, until she was picked up, with the armour—which was not what she wanted at all. Can the Minister not do something by some special grant to help these particular museums? I understand that it will cost only £300,000 for the Fitzwilliam to be open every day of the week, including Mondays. That is not a very large sum.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness and the House will be aware that, as a Minister, I am something of a way station for funding. I have a number of client bodies. I argue and negotiate the money for them in each financial year and then hand it straight over. Unfortunately, I do not have a nice little contingency reserve all of my own for these admirable purposes.

My Lords, is the noble Earl the Minister aware that if the Government persist in their plans to abolish the metropolitan counties many more museums other than those which are mentioned in the Question will be in difficulty? Will he suggest to his noble friends here and his right honourable and honourable friends in other places that they should not persist in these proposals?

My Lords, the noble Lord is well aware that the Government's proposals to abolish the upper tier of local government has nothing to do with arts and museum funding, as will soon be apparent.